Flights to Europe start, pilots' group pickets
Having initiated service to Scotland from Green Airport Friday, Norwegian Airlines further defined its commitment to Rhode Island reaffirming Monday that it is in the process of recruiting personnel resulting in the creation of a total of 200 new jobs here and at Stewart International Airport just north of New York City. The bases will both open in July.
As a base, two aircraft will be based at Green as well as pilots and cabin crew. Some aircraft maintenance will also be performed at Green.
In an email and telephone conversation Anders Lindstrom, Norwegian director of communications, said inaugural flights were nearly sold out and that service to cities in Ireland and Norway is slated to start as scheduled. Flights from Green to the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are slated to start this October, bringing the total number of international destinations serviced by Norwegian from Green to eight.
Lindstrom also responded to allegations raised by the Allied Pilots Association that picketed the departure level Friday mid-day in support of the federal legislation, the Flags of Convenience Don’t Fly Here Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and 56 bipartisan co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives last month.
The American Airlines pilots contend Norwegian is a flag of convenience and is headquartered in Ireland to avoid Norway’s labor laws, enabling them to shop for “cheap pilot labor in Thailand through a Singapore-based recruitment firm,” according to a flyer pickets handed out.
In a lengthy and detailed response, Lindstrom said the selection of Ireland as a base of operation “all boils down to traffic rights and has nothing to do with trying to avoid Norwegian labor laws. Norwegian Air International has no Asian-based pilots or crewmembers, nor does NAI intend to hire any Asian-based employees.”
In his email Lindstrom writes, “As you know, opponents claim that incorporating in Ireland allows Norwegian to implement a ‘flag of convenience’ operational model. In reality, NAI is headquartered in Dublin with 80 employees [of which almost all are Irish] and has almost 40 aircraft registered in Ireland. With final approval for NAI, Norwegian will now be able to launch a number of routes this summer from the U.S. to Ireland, many currently un-served.”
He went on to explain that Norway is not part of the European Union, and in order to expand globally as planned, Norwegian needs to a EU base to access EU aviation rights not available in Norway.
That’s not the way Daniel Carey, president of the Allied Pilots, sees it. On Friday he claimed Norwegian is “a virtual airline.” He said that American jobs are at stake claiming because the airline has circumvented staffing requirements and regulations in this country they are able to reduce costs.
The pilots questioned more than jobs. Safety was on their list. Carey and Dennis Tajer, also an American pilot and association member, see the flag of convenience “scheme” as undermining the “safety culture” of this country. Specifically, Carey questioned how the Boeing 737-800’s Norwegian are using could make the flight here, suggesting they must be landing on “fumes.” Because of the jet stream, flights traveling west take longer and consume more fuel than those benefiting from a tail wind flying east.
“You can take the low road with Norwegian or you can take the high road with American with the fuel to get you there,” said Carey.
“No other foreign airline has more U.S.-based cabin crew and continues to create more American jobs than Norwegian, and this year we will be the only foreign airline to recruit American pilots as we will open up several new pilot and cabin crew bases in the United States. All U.S.-based pilots and crew are hired under local laws and regulations with competitive packages,” Lindstrom responded on the claim of lost American jobs.
Citing what he called statistics generated by legacy carriers, he said each new U.S. route creates 1,500 American jobs in the aviation and hospitality industry. Using that factor, Lindstrom said that the 45 routes Norwegian has established in the last three and a half years has resulted in 67,500 new American jobs.
In response to the use of 737s, Lindstrom called Carey’s claim about the 737 as “wildly incorrect and he is simply trying to create a fear-mongering situation.” He said there are “no concerns whatsoever with the aircraft we are temporarily using on these new U.S. routes as we have capped both seat and weight capacity. We expected the delayed Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to enter service this summer and we can fly at full capacity, just as this brand-new aircraft type was designed for. No matter what these opponents claim, safety is always our number one priority!”
Carey and Tajer said that gaining approval to picket at Green required individual passes, although as pilots all of the picketers have federal security clearance.
“It’s clearly an obstructive process,” said Tajer. “We have more rights at Heathrow than at T.F. Green.”
In an email, Patti Goldstein, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, said the Allied Pilots Association had been treated no differently than other groups.
“If future air carriers are allowed to continue this trend, we risk kicking off a global race to the bottom for the airline industry, and hundreds of thousands of hard-working men and women who keep our nation’s airlines flying will pay the steepest price,” read a release from the association.
“We view ALPA’s petition as nothing more than a last-ditch effort to stop competition and new service. Norwegian simply underlines exactly what the EU-US Open Skies agreement was designed for – to foster competition among airlines, leading to greater choice and more affordable fares for passengers,” said Lindstrom.
H.R. 2150 would prohibit the Department of Transportation from issuing a permit to a foreign airline unless DOT determines that it is not establishing itself in a particular country just to avoid regulations — a so-called “flag of convenience” scheme that allows companies to skirt international labor standards, outsource the hiring of pilots and maintenance crews to distant countries, and take advantage of weak safety and security oversight. The bill would also require DOT to ensure that any new foreign air carrier permits issued to European airlines are consistent with the fair labor standards and fair competition requirements of the U.S.-EU-Norway-Iceland Air Transport Agreement.